Depending on how you view the ending, or if you were waiting for Joker's big move to either happen earlier or be larger in scope and body-count, the ending, chilling though it be, can come off thusly.
If you were looking for a grand rematch between Batman and Bane, sorry. Their meeting is fairly civil — but, somewhat paradoxically, still manages to be awesome.
Archive Panic: Saying the story is big is an understatement. The story comprises every major Batman comic released in 1999, which is already just over one hundred issues. Then you add in the tie in issues in Azrael, Catwoman, Nightwing, and Robin and a few tie-in one-shots and specials. Then there's the stories the stories directly leading into it, "Cataclysm", "Aftershocks", and "Road to No Man's Land." And lastly there come the arcs before that, "Contagion" and "Legacy", which kickstarted the whole thing. Altogether, that's over 150 comics. The four new edition tradepaperbacks DC released through 2011 and 2012 reprinting the main story alone are over 500 pages each.
Complete Monster: The Joker is determined to destroy what little order the desolated Gotham City has. He abducts several police officers and disguises them as himself, resulting in many being killed by their comrade, mistaking them for the Joker. He then takes an entire hospital ward of newborn infants hostage, planning to kill them all to destroy the city's spirit. When Commissioner Gordon's second wife, Sarah Essen, tries to stop him, he fatally shoots her in the head.
Magnificent Bastard: Lex Luthor. He sets up the whole No Man's Land policy himself from behind the scenes, sends Bane in to alter the records to show that he owns a bunch of property in Gotham, then shows up, fixes everything (which, remember, only needed fixing because of him in the first place), and uses the positive publicity to boost a successful campaign for President of the United States. Sure, the real estate scam angle didn't pan out because Batman figured out what he was doing, but otherwise the whole thing was a roaring success.
Ship-to-Ship Combat: A case of this among the writers. In the Nightwing tie-in, Chuck Dixon sowed the seeds for a Nightwing and Oracle relationship, while also making clear the antagonistic relationship between Nightwing and Huntress. In the concluding issues penned by Greg Rucka and Devin Grayson, Nightwing greatly cares about Huntress, and even kisses on New Year's Eve.
The death of Jim Gordon's wife, Sarah, at the hands of the Joker. Joker has a large number of infants held hostage. Sarah rushes in with a gun, and Joker tosses one of the babies at her, forcing her to drop her gun to save it. No points for guessing what he does once she's unarmed. Gordon gets the news outside - he rants tearfully about how the Joker has gone too far and seriously considers killing him, but after shooting him in the knee, chooses law over anarchy and walks away. And if him weeping on the steps as Batman holds him steady doesn't get to you, then the scene of him spending the New Year alone, singing Auld Lang Syne dry-eyed over Sarah's grave definitely will.